Report: Immigration Officials Missed Online Support of Violent Jihad by Tashfeen Malik

December 14th 2015

Alex Mierjeski

Editor's update: The New York Times report on which this story was originally based was revised after FBI officials accused the paper of "garbling" its sources. Those sources told the Times that Tashfeen Malik had made public social media postings supporting violent jihad, when in fact, those messages of support were sent in private messages, according to statements by FBI director James Comey. This article has been updated to reflect those changes. 

Tashfeen Malik, the female gunman and wife of Syed Farook who helped carry out the deadly mass shooting in San Bernardino on December 2, underwent multiple background checks in which U.S. officials overlooked her private online support of violent jihad, the New York Times reported.


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Over the course of the screening process, immigration officials—during three background checks—missed Malik's vocal support of the ideology in private messages on social media, which were only recently discovered, according to the paper. In those postings, Malik allegedly said she wished to be a part of the movement.

The revelations have shed light on a blind spot in the otherwise rigorous screening process that might have prevented Malik from successfully entering the country from Pakistan.

The Times reports:

"[I]mmigration officials do not routinely review social media as part of their background checks, and there is a debate inside the Department of Homeland Security over whether it is even appropriate to do so."

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Malik entered the U.S. on what's known as a fiancé visa, since she and Farook intended to marry. While thorough, screenings for such visas aren't as extensive as those for, say, a Syrian refugee. Even so, background checks by the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, and criminal and security checks for a Green Card application—as well as in-person interviews and an FBI review—didn't turn up Malik's activity on social media.

That may come as a surprise in an age where social media has become the de facto medium for both personal expression and public interactions with others, but as the Times reports, running extensive, multifaceted checks on each of the tens of millions of foreigners cleared each year to live, work, or visit poses logistical limitations, not to mention privacy concerns.

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In the aftermath of both the Paris attacks and the California shooting, Americans have been scrutinizing the screening process for immigrants, as well as applicants of programs like the fiancé or K-1 visa. Lawmakers have pushed for more stringent background checks, while others, like Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, have called for extreme measures like a moratorium on all Muslim immigration.

"Somebody entered the United States through the K-1 visa program and proceeded to carry out an act of terrorism on American soil," White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said last week. "That program is at a minimum worth a very close look."